Dr Sartaj Ahmad Sofi
To come out of the routine academic activities within the campus, a band of faculty members & research scholars of the Department of Islamic Studies, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU) Rajouri – Dr Naseem Gul, Dr Sartaj Ahmad Sofi, Dr Muheeb Ahad, Dr Mohd Yunus Kumar, Mr Habib Bilal – visited Poonch for spending their holidays. A three days’ trip from BGSBU to Poonch began in the morning of 14th May and ended in the evening of 16th May. We departed from the university at about 09:00am and reached Shri Krishan Chander Govt Degree College Poonch at 01:00pm. The principal of the college, Prof Musarraf Hussain Shah, warmly welcomed and provided us lunch there. Being a humble person and great academician, he made our trip a memorable one. From there, Dr Fayaz Ahmad (Ass Prof, Political Science) accompanied us. We had an opportunity to offer Zuhr prayers at Jamia Masjid Sharief Markazi Eidgah Poonch — a beautiful mosque that was under construction, opposite the Markazi Eidgah.
From there, we proceeded towards a prominent shrine of a famous Sufi of Poonch province called Sain Miran Baksh which lies on the top of a mountain called Guntrian, some 500 meters away from the Line of Actual Control (LOC). The visit to the shrine could be described in tourism terminology as “Shrine Tourism and Cross Border Tourism”. These two kinds of tourism are frequently visible in Poonch, as we observed while encountering such destinations here and there. We spent a good amount of time in the shrine of Sain Miran Baksh and offered Asr prayer there in the mosque attached to the shrine. The shrine is one of the pilgrim destinations of Poonch for not only Muslim visitors but for non-Muslim tourists as well. The structure of the shrine is so beautiful that it captures the visitors’ heart and mind. From there, we proceeded towards Mandi, Loran — one of the beautiful areas of Poonch. This area is highly famous for tourism, especially adventurous tourism.
The gorgeous waterfall of Nandishool is located some 12 kms from the village of Sultan Pathri. We reached Loran late at night and stayed in a hut of the tourism department. The hut is located at a beautiful place, which lies on the opposite side of an army camp. We proceeded for trekking towards Nandichool in the morning at almost 10:45am on 15th May, and reached there at 01:10 PM, after walking more than two hours. The trekking from Sultan Pathri to Nandichool is somewhat difficult but very attractive and full of aesthetic grandeur. We spent a good amount of time there, having tea and lunch. It reminded us of Kashmir Valley’s famous waterfall at Aharbal Shopian. Though there is a visible difference between the two, the climate and the atmosphere looks alike.
We returned in the late evening and came to pay homage to the famous Sufi saint who is popularly known as Sain Illahi Baksh on his death anniversary at Batalkot, Loran, and offered Magrib prayer there at the mosque and returned back to the same hut. In the morning on 16th May, we proceeded towards Mandi and reached a place called Sawjian Valley. The magnetic and most scenic destination is located on the opposite side of Gulmarg. The climate and other geographical conditions of both the destinations resemble each other. It lies 36 kms to the north of Poonch town and is also nearer to the LAC. The valley comprises Gagrian, Narrian, Rangwar, Gali Madan, Kopra, etc. It connects to Kashmir (Gulmarg or Tangmarg) via the shortest route. Here again, we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of barriers between countries and the necessity of cross-border tourism. We departed from the place and returned back to BGSBU at night.
The three-day trip was actually the amalgam of pilgrim-cum-adventurous tourism. Besides the distinctive bordered barracks along the Line of Actual Control, we encountered diverse destinations of Poonch which included highly adventurous ones as well as purely religio-cultural in nature. To call this trip as religio-cultural tourism would in no way be an exaggeration.
Indeed, the Poonch valley is very fertile in terms of tourism, but the need is to promote it on national and global fronts. The primarily responsibility lies with the stakeholders. This, as per my experience, may be the topmost destinations of the Pir Panjal Valley, if developed and promoted fully. Although the tourism development authority has taken certain initiatives to develop some particular places, but the developmental aspect is still in its immature stage. It needs dedication and sincerity along with touristic enthusiasm to improve the developmental work in Pir Panjal regions, particularly in the Poonch valley.
Moreover, the tourism industry has the potential to promote cultural and cross-border tourism which will surely bring beneficial changes and reduce border tensions. We were somewhat familiarised with the rural culture of the remote areas of Poonch along with the love of the people, the imprints of which are still alive in our minds and hearts. To promote rural tourism in terms of religio-cultural and cross-border aspects means to promote peace, harmony and pluralism — which is highly essential for the welfare of humanity.
The writer is Assistant Professor at Department of Islamic Studies, BGSBU, Rajouri. [email protected]